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“Can we ever truly go home again?” is a question that defies time and space, and subsequently is the basis for CHARLESTON, a beguiling tale that explores the emotional terrains of love, loss and memories. Margaret Bradham Thornton’s debut novel exposes the emotional tug of a person to a place, by providing a backdrop that defines the term “homeward bound.” By immersing the narrative with a story line infused with a many-layered history, Thornton confronts the notion of what it means to go home again, exposing Charleston as a city of controversy --- a place both charmed yet vexed by its historical presence.

A sinuous dialogue allows all the rich history of this southern community to be so aptly exposed by both the main characters (Eliza and Henry) and secondary ones (Jamie, Lawton and Lizzie). As a result, we are constantly reminded of the importance of a family’s lineage within a tight-knit community. Consequently, Eliza quickly points out how far off course we can become when we don’t have a home base in which to attach our fondest memories.

"Both evocative and melancholy, this haunting and lyrical novel pulls at the heartstrings, as the script of one woman’s love for a man and an unforgettable city is played out."

As an art historian in London, Eliza never regretted her decision to leave Charleston after college, and she never intended to return after her father died. But the past caught up with her when Henry, an old friend from home, met up with her at a friend’s wedding 10 years later in the English countryside. This chance meeting stirred up many memories of the times they spent together back in South Carolina. In fact, the thoughts of those good times led Eliza to miss her childhood home and Henry. Already overwhelmed by their first encounter --- when she comes back to Charleston to attend her stepsister’s debut --- their second one really unnerves her. Upon seeing Henry again, Eliza begins to envision a life back home, which eventually results in her leaving London, and Jamie, the man she thought she would ultimately marry.

With her equilibrium shattered --- by Henry’s profession of love, by the lure of the seductive countryside, and by a history rich in intrigue --- Eliza slowly becomes aware that “home is where the heart is” and is drawn to a Charleston she is growing to love. Before long, she also finds herself entwined in the lives of families who trace their heritage back for generations and soon realizes she must make a difficult choice. Can she risk everything she has worked so long and hard for to stay with the only man she has ever loved?

With subtle eloquence, Thornton has created in CHARLESTON a novel that both magnifies the charms of this southern city and illuminates its history. Just below the surface, it asks if you can ever go home again. Returning to the place and the people that indelibly shape us --- from childhood --- isn’t always an easy task as this first-time author so aptly conveys. Both evocative and melancholy, this haunting and lyrical novel pulls at the heartstrings, as the script of one woman’s love for a man and an unforgettable city is played out.

Reviewed by Donna Smallwood on September 5, 2014

by Margaret Bradham Thornton

  • Publication Date: May 5, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062332538
  • ISBN-13: 9780062332530